Evergreen student’s carbon monoxide death investigation says alarms turned off by maintenance

OLYMPIA, Wash. — A Washington State Patrol investigation said maintenance workers at The Evergreen State College in Olympia played a part in a student’s carbon monoxide poisoning death.

WSP released their findings in the three-month investigation on Wednesday, showing the timeline leading up to the death of 21-year-old Jonathan Rodriguez inside an on-campus modular apartment last year.

The report said that on Dec. 11, 2023, CO alarms went off in the early morning hours before being silenced by the school’s maintenance staff, who assumed the alarms were sounding because they were faulty and not because of an actual CO leak.

“That mistaken assumption was one of several key contributors to this tragedy,” the report said.

Two other Evergreen students in the same unit as Rodriguez were hospitalized, and a responding Evergreen Police officer also affected by the gas leak needed medical attention and hospitalization.

Investigators believe the cause of the CO leak was a tankless water heater that was improperly installed.

“This was a tragic yet avoidable situation,” said WSP Chief John R. Batiste. “When you hear the alarm, get out. Treat each event with the urgency it deserves. Lives depend on it.”

The Evergreen State College President Dr. John Carmichael released a statement regarding the investigation:

“Jonathan’s death is a devastating loss. This tragedy has deeply affected our whole Evergreen community and we will continue to grieve. Our care extends to staff - including student staff - who were there the day of the tragedy and to students who were injured and who lived nearby.

“We are thankful for the Washington State Patrol’s diligence in conducting a thorough investigation. Their investigation found that lack of training and insufficient protocols for responding to carbon monoxide alarms contributed to this tragic accident. As a result, we are taking numerous steps to ensure our students’ safety - including improving training on incident detection and updating alarm response protocols.”